Out & About in Wilton Manors: Inside South Florida’s LGBT+ Capital
What makes for a good travel location? History buffs say famous landmarks, while adrenaline junkies say adventurous activities. Some might say breathtaking views. Others could say cultural experiences.
For Wilton Manors, it’s the people who make the place. Vibrant and welcoming, the residents of Wilton Manors are filled with pride -- for both their city and their community. And rightfully so: Wilton Manors is ranked the “Second Gayest City” in the United States (next to Provincetown, Mass.) for its thriving LGBT+ population. Its streets are lined with gay-owned businesses, bars, and hotspots, each built out of love and acceptance.
Whether you’re gay or straight, one thing’s for sure: Wilton Manors is a travel destination with heart.
LGBT+ Museums, Events, and Attractions
Wilton Manors has a long history of supporting the LGBT+ community. The city elected the first openly gay official in Greater Fort Lauderdale in 1988, and its commission became the second gay-majority governing body ever in the United States in 2000. So it’s only fitting that a variety of attractions honoring LGBT+ life have set up shop in the town.
Stop by the World AIDS Museum, the first museum in the world dedicated to the HIV/AIDs epidemic. It may sound heavy, but this museum is truly an uplifting celebration of life. Through dynamic and anecdotal storytelling, you can learn all about the history of the disease and how to rise above it.
The Stonewall National Museum & Archives is the nation’s largest LGBT+ museum. Located on Wilton Drive, the museum is committed to preserving and highlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and their impact on American society. Visitors can tour empowering exhibits covering a unique set of topics from the Stonewall Riots to LGBT+ relationships to NYC’s LGBT+ club culture. Stonewall National Museum also hosts events throughout the year, with special guests like Broadway legend Audra McDonald and transgender icon Jazz Jennings.
While the museum puts on engaging exhibits, the National Archives contain more than 5,000 items that document a century of LGBT+ cultural and social history. There’s even the Stonewall National Library holding over 28,000 books. It’s safe to say if you’re looking to brush up on history, this is the place to do it.
Of course, the annual Wilton Manors Stonewall Parade & Street Festival is a can’t-miss event that just hit its 25th year. Be sure to plan your visit during June (a.k.a. Pride Month), and join the LGBT+ community in strutting down Wilton Drive for the party of a lifetime. You can see rainbow colors from miles away, as well as feel the infectious, joyful spirit radiating throughout the event.
There are so many LGBT+ attractions to check out, this article only scratches the surface. Luckily, you can go to the LGBT+ Visitor Center while you’re here to plan the perfect Wilton Manors experience.
“The opening of this Visitor Center marks another important milestone in the uniqueness of our area in recognizing the value and needs of the LGBT+ visitor,” said Richard Gray, Vice President of LGBT+ for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are very excited about this latest advancement in calling attention to all of our great attractions, hotels, clubs, bars, and restaurants that cater to this important audience.”
Where to Eat and Where to Party
Wilton Manors may be a small town, but it’s a small town with a big personality. The LGBT+ population adds effervescent energy to an already lively city.
Rosie’s Bar and Grill is a great example. The brunch, lunch and dinner restaurant provides a colorful and bubbly atmosphere -- both in its staff, decor, and menu. Rosie’s has a covered patio with rainbow lanterns peppered throughout. The menu item names definitely warrant a chuckle or two; some highlights include the “Quinoa Tifah,” the “Briney Spears” and “Kaling Me Softly.” It’s pretty obvious that the folks over at Rosie’s Bar and Grill know how to have fun. If you want something more traditional, Rosie’s burgers are famously out-of-this-world. Locals love the “Big Girl Burgers,” a collection of burgers specially made with Rosie’s unique burger blend.
Chances are, if you look up the Wilton Manors location tag on Instagram, you’ll immediately see about a dozen posts taking place at The Alchemist. This "hipsteresque" coffee and food spot is a social media lover’s dream. It’s located in an outdoor garden with rustic-chic chairs and greenery. The Avocado Slicers are to-die-for (and totally Insta-worthy), while The Alchemist Iced Coffee, served in a mason jar with a handle, is that of legends.
If those menu items weren’t enough to post about, the aesthetically pleasing cafe is a short walk away from The Yard: a mural art activation and flea market. Buy cute jewelry from any of the local vendors, or go to the nearby airstream with The Wander Shop inside, a boutique that sells trendy clothing and accessories from local designers. Once your outfit is complete, you can pose in front of the mural of your choice.
For dinner, grab some noodles at the modern Vietnamese What the Pho, or some pizza at Bona Italian Restaurant, the longest operating full-service restaurant in Wilton Manors. “Give Back Mondays” at Bona donate proceeds to LGBT+ nonprofits.
When the sun goes down, it’s time to party. You can catch the people of Wilton Manors for a night out dancing at Hunters Nightclub, which features a video bar, large dance floor, pool tables, friendly bartenders, world-class DJs and a fun crowd every night.
Another nightlife venue is the award-winning George’s Alibi Monkey Bar, one of South Florida's longest-running gay restaurants, bars, and nightclubs rolled into one. Make it a night out with some of the best entertainment in the city, and meet exciting people who travel far to hit the dance floor.
Why Wilton Manors is Called the “Island City”
Wilton Manors’ gay population isn’t the only reason it stands apart. Its “Island City” nickname stems from the fact that it actually is an island. The city is surrounded by the North and South Forks in the Middle River.
Waterways offer scenic views along with homes, restaurants, and establishments all over town. You may even catch sight of endangered species, like manatees or wood storks, beneath the surface. Urban habitats Colohatchee Park and Richardson Historic Park & Nature Preserve act as great sites for spotting many native species of birds, plants, animals, and trees. With black and red mangroves and an observation deck, the boardwalk nature trail at Colohatchee Park does not disappoint.
Wilton Manors: Lively People. Perfect Location.
Wilton Manors is located on the outskirts of downtown Fort Lauderdale. You can have access to dozens of beachfront resorts, hotels, and accommodations on your trip. Sebastian Street Beach, one of the best gay beaches in the U.S. is also nearby. The city truly has the best of both worlds: a quaint, small-town feel paired with close proximity to urban (and beachside) life.
From its paradise landscape to its inspiring population, Wilton Manors is the place to be for LGBT+ travelers. See the magic for yourself, and say “yaaasss” to planning your vacation A.S.A.P.